Career Tips

Do senior roles ever come as flexible too?

Whether you are trying to make your full-time role more flexible, or you are applying for a promotion and proposing to work it part-time, flexibly or in a job-share arrangement, here are four keys things to consider.

It was that time of year again, what most people felt was the unnerving ‘annual performance review’ time. Not me – I actually enjoyed these discussions and had always been enthusiastic to take part. I had recently returned from maternity leave working part–time and was happy to be back. Whilst my priorities had changed since having kids, my desire to do a great job and develop professionally had not. I had mapped out the type of role that I was keen to progress to and the level it would sit at. Yes, I was really enjoying returning to work. Full of enthusiasm I participated in the performance discussion. Overall – all good. When it came to the ‘development’ part of the conversation I talked eagerly about where I was keen to move to in the company – the sooner the better. My manager, who had always been the encouraging type, simply looked at me and said ‘But you work part-time’. ‘The sort of roles you are talking about are only advertised as full time.’

Right…well yes, I worked part-time, and that was very important to me. Needless to say I left the meeting feeling disappointed. Why does it has to be this way? I have just done this remarkable thing of producing the future tax payers of tomorrow and as a part-time worker it was made clear that I was not able to progress.

So it’s not surprising that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency lists ‘a lack of part-time or flexible senior roles’ as one of the key factors influencing the gender pay gap, which it currently stands at 16.2% for full-time workers. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for “Gender pay gap in Australia”. The first sentence reads “Australia has a persistent gender pay gap” – blunt and straight to the point.

This experience for me was around 8 years ago now and thankfully I have since been able to follow my passions in a flexible way. It’s also encouraging to sometimes see examples of progressive companies providing flexibility to senior roles. However it still proves difficult for a lot of people. So whether you are trying to make your full-time role more flexible, or you are applying for a promotion and proposing to work it part-time, flexibly or in a job-share arrangement, here are 4 keys things to consider.

  • 1.Believe in yourself

Yes that old chestnut. It’s an old chestnut because it is so important! As the saying goes, if you don’t believe in yourself no one else will. Taking on a senior role in a flexible way takes courage and it’s imperative to have your own back and tell yourself that you can do it! This quote from Diane Sawyer really sums it up: “Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it”.

  • 2.Market your capabilities

Consider yourself a business of one and your manager or organisation you work for is your customer. Become better at communicating what you have to offer. You can start with a simple self-assessment exercise by listing all your workplace achievements over the last 5 years. Then rework these using action verbs at the beginning of each statement, i.e. Negotiated… Maximised…, Expanded…, Founded…, Increased…, Generated… – you see what I’m getting at. Think about instances where you have saved your company money, increased sales, managed a successful project, submitted an idea that was adopted, implemented processes that have solved complex problems etc. You can choose to share this with your manager or just complete it as an exercise to build your confidence and sense of self-worth. It’s also good to have these examples front of mind that you can call upon when appropriate and it’s great to list them in your resume. The aim is to get your manager/future manager thinking how he/she ever managed without you!

  • 3.Present a solution.

One of the main reasons that there are so few flexible senior roles is because it can be tricky to implement. You’ve heard the excuses…‘But it’s a full time job’….‘People can’t report to two different managers’….‘People need a manager to report to every day’…’I don’t want to set a precedent’. It’s possible to constructively challenge each of these assumptions. ‘Why can’t people have two different managers?’ For every con think of two pros. ‘Is it not a bonus to have two people to encourage, motivate and offer guidance than one!’ ‘Surely we trust our people enough to not be micro managing them every day’. ‘And what’s wrong with setting this as a precedent!’ The best way to move forward with a flexible role proposal is to present a detailed plan of how it will work. Brainstorm all the objections and challenges and come up with creative strategies to solve them. Once you can allay your manager’s or future manager’s fears with a detailed plan the stage will be set.

  • 4.Don’t be overly grateful!

If your proposal to work flexibly is approved, of course you need to give the appropriate amount of thanks, but don’t go overboard gushing with gratitude! This simply reinforces the view that this is something well out of the norm and that a huge favour has been done for you. If flexibility in senior roles is to become easier for people to achieve going forward it needs to be viewed as a mainstream approach.


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